Michigan vs Villanova Title Game Prediction: Are Wildcats Unbeatable?

Michigan forward Moritz Wagner dunking
Mo Wagner and the Michigan defense will have its hands full in the title game against Villanova's top-ranked offense. Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire.
  • The 2018 National Championship is a classic contrast in styles. 
  • Can Villanova’s top-ranked offense stay hot and cover as seven-point favorites?
  • Or will Michigan’s tenacious D keep the Wolverines close?

The final game of the 2017-18 college basketball season sees a preseason national championship favorite taking on a team that was picked to finish as low as fifth in its conference. It sees the best offense in the nation taking on a tenacious top-five defense. And it sees a coach who only recently got over a sour March Madness reputation taking on a coach who still doesn’t get the recognition he deserves, because he’s yet to win the big one.

So when Jay Wright’s Villanova Wildcats lock claws with John Beilein’s Michigan Wolverines, almost every facet of the game, almost every storyline for the two teams, will stand in marked contrast.

But now is not the time to wax poetic. With tip-off tomorrow night (9:20 PM ET, Monday, April 2), time is of the essence to find the best betting value for the 2018 title game, which Villanova enters as a seven-point favorite. First, the numbers …

Team Stats

Villanova
VS
Michigan

 35-4 (14-4) Overall Record (Conference Record) 32-7 (13-5)
 86.6 (1st)  Points Per Game (National Rank) 74.1 (166th)
127.6 (1st) Offensive Efficiency Rating 115.1 (31st)
 70.2 (113th) Points Against Per Game 63.1 (8th)
 94.4 (14th) Defensive Efficiency Rating 90.4 (3rd)
35.9 (138th)  Rebounds Per Game 33.4 (281st)
 49.9% (6th) Field-Goal Percentage 47% (57th)
 40.0% (19th) Three-Point Percentage 36.6% (83rd)
78.0% (8th) Free-Throw Percentage 66.2% (321st)
 26-12-1 (5-0) ATS Record (Last 5 Games/NCAA Tournament) 25-13-1  (3-2)

Matchup Breakdown

Entering the Final Four, this was the national championship that the odds were predicting. Both Michigan and Villanova were favored (by 5.5 and 5.0 points, respectively) in their semifinal games. Both wound up covering by a significant margin, but one looked dead in the water for 30 minutes, while the other dominated from the jump.

Michigan’s Final Four battle with Cinderella Loyola-Chicago (69-57) saw the Ramblers take a seven-point lead into halftime, despite not hitting a single three. The Wolverines’ defense was doing its part, but the offense was sloppy at times and stagnant at others. Point guard Zavier Simpson’s limited offensive upside really showed (0 points, 3 assists, 4 turnovers) and his scrappy defense was not enough to make up for his loose handle and poor decision making.

Lucky for Beilein, Moe Wagner (24 points, 15 rebounds, 3 steals) and Charles Matthews (17 points, 5 rebounds, 3 steals) came to play. Wagner kept his team in the game in the first half and dragged them back to even when he nailed a three with just under seven to play that knotted the game at 47. Matthews helped put the game out of reach, scoring 11 of his 17 points in the final 16 minutes.

In reality, though, Michigan was able to pull ahead because Loyola got sped up and incredibly careless. The Ramblers turned the ball over seven times in the final 7.5 minutes. Credit Michigan for pressuring the ball, but Loyola shot itself in the foot, something Jalen Brunson and Villanova are not going to do.

The same [Villanova] team that gave up over 100 points to Butler in late December didn’t allow Kansas to even attempt a three in the first 12 minutes of the [Final Four].

After a truly dazzling performance against Kansas in the Final Four (95-79), Villanova enters the title game with a 127.6 offensive efficiency rating, the second-best of the KenPom era (which dates back to 2002), trailing only 2015 Wisconsin (129.0). The team, which has lived by the three-ball all season, came out blazing hot, opening up a 22-4 lead, and didn’t look back. Their 15-point halftime lead was never really threatened in the second 20.

The Wildcats finished the night 18-40 from deep (45%), but that undersells how well they shot when it mattered. They were 50% (13-26) in the first half, already tying the Final Four record for most made threes. Almost everyone got in on the fun. All five Nova starters made at least two three-pointers, and sixth man Donte Divincenzo added four more off the bench.

What makes this team truly, epically terrifying is that it’s figured some things out defensively. The same group that gave up over 100 points to Butler in late December didn’t allow Kansas to even attempt a three in the first 12 minutes of Saturday’s game. The Jayhawks’ fifth-ranked offense was stuck on four points almost eight minutes in, and it’s not like they had been missing easy looks.

The moral of the story: when Nova combines its length and athleticism with hustle, easy looks are hard to come by.

Prediction

Villanova deserves to be favored, and by a decent margin. Yet, with the spread sitting at Villanova -7 at basically all reputable online betting sites, the best ATS value is a tough call. Putting up 90 points on Michigan would require something beyond Herculean.

It has been done this year, however. Purdue managed to edge the Wolverines 92-88 in late January. The Boilermakers shot over 50% from three (11-20) and were lights-out from the free-throw line (19-24). UNC also racked up 86 points of their own in an early-season non-conference game, handing Michigan one of just two double-digit losses on the year (86-71). Like Purdue, UNC shot well from beyond the arc (46.7%).

Led by national player of the year Jalen Brunson, this Villanova team shares the ball phenomenally. They know basically everyone on the floor can shoot and never hesitate to make the extra pass. They had 20 assists on 36 made baskets against Kansas. Even against Michigan’s elite defense, they are going to get decent looks, and history suggests they’ll knock them down at a solid rate.

When it comes to free-throws, they’re one of the best in the nation (78%), and have been even better in the tournament.

Michigan struggles in a lot of areas that you just can’t if you’re trying to keep the score close against Villanova.

Michigan struggles in a lot of areas that you just can’t if you’re trying to keep the score close against Villanova. They don’t rebound well (281st in the country); they are one of the worst teams in the country from the foul line (321st); and they aren’t particularly adept at shooting the three (83rd).

Recognizing that the Wildcats aren’t going to set more scoring records in the title game, I still like laying the points here. Yes, there is a significant possibility that Michigan’s perimeter defenders compel a poor shooting night from Nova. But when you have this many guys on the floor who can drain triples, share the ball the way the Wildcats do, and hit free throws at nearly 80%, taking the top-flight offense is the better option.

Prediction: 79-70 Villanova